Orland Park challenge to Pritzker restrictions stumbles

Orland Park challenge to Pritzker restrictions stumbles
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Opinion: Orland Park challenge to Pritzker restrictions stumbles

Orland Park is stumbling because it is poorly led by an incompetent official who puts his personal interests above the interests of the public he was elected to represent. Mayor Keith Pekau’s fight against Gov. J.B. Pritzker isn’t about protecting the taxpayers, but rather about stirring up a political base he desperately needs to stay in office.

This column is republished this week, originally Published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group July 1, 2020 (including The Regional Newspaper, The Palos Reporter, The Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald)

By Ray Hanania

Less than a week after filing a taxpayer funded lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker demanding that COVID-19 restrictions be eased, two employees at the Village of Orland Park have been diagnosed with the virus.

Orland Park is one of several municipalities that have filed lawsuits against Pritzker, but using taxpayer money rather than to seek private funding sources as other nearby communities are doing, a point made in a column last week published in the Chicago Tribune’s Southtown Community newspaper group.

In reality, the lawsuit by Mayor Keith Pekau, a conservative Republican with support from the Tea Party, is more of a publicity stunt. It came the same week that Pritzker announced restrictions would be eased as the state moved into Phase Four.

Keith Pekau, former landscaper and accidental Orland Park Mayor. Photo from the Village of Orland Park

Keith Pekau, former landscaper and accidental Orland Park Mayor. Photo from the Village of Orland Park

Pekau also announced scheduling at least two public rock concerts, and a 4th of July celebration, while other municipalities move more slowly towards post COVID-19 normalization.

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The shallow publicity aspect of Pekau’s strategy makes him vulnerable to the unfortunate news that the virus is spreading, not receding, in Orland Park.

One of the two infected employees works in the Village Manager’s Offices. The other works in the Recreation Department. Both employees were in contact with dozens of other village employees and that’s why the village was forced to inform those employees of the infections. The people concerned the most were Village employees who contacted me about the contagions.

The Village didn’t intend for the infections to become public. They only issued a press release regarding the first infection after I published the story about the infection June 26 on my news blog, SuburbanChicagoland.com.

Of course, a press release on a COVID-19 infection doesn’t really do much to restore public confidence, which is probably why they decided not to issue a press release when I broke the story two days later that a second employee was diagnosed with the virus.

Now, many government agencies and municipalities have employees who have been infected by Coronavirus, especially among Police and First Responders who cannot curtail their services in the face of public health calls and other life and death emergencies.

But that’s what makes Orland Park’s infections so significant. By challenging the restrictions, Pekau is acting like the pandemic is an exaggerated myth rather than a real threat to the health of the residents.

Pekau has clearly tried to exploit the pandemic for his own political agenda by pandering to the growing frustration of the public, which is admittedly tired of the restrictions. If the number of infections were falling, he would have benefited politically. But two infections within a two-day period raises concerns that more infection announcements will be coming. That’s because COVID-19 is a serious and dangerous virus threat. That doesn’t help his political future, It raises concerns about whether or not the village needs someone more responsible at the helm.

How smart is it to organize rock concerts in the village or to bring residents together, even with “social distancing,” to attend a 4th of July celebration when there still is no vaccine for coronavirus? How smart is it when the rate of the infections and deaths continues to rise?

It’s political gambling, like putting all your money on Red at the casino roulette wheel. There is a 47 percent chance you will win, but a 53 percent chance that you will lose.

Orland Park is in the heart of Illinois’s coronavirus pandemic in suburban Cook County where the state has reported nearly 140,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 7,000 deaths. About 37,000 of the confirmed cases are in suburban Cook County along with nearly 2,000 deaths.

One infection can dramatically multiply and cause dozens of other infections as symptoms often do not appear for up to 14 days after initial contact. Meanwhile, individuals who have been infected can easily spread the infection during this two-week asymptomatic carrier period.

Orland Park, which has a population of 58,000 has had 530 confirmed coronavirus cases (zip codes 60462, 60467), based on only 5,105 tests, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, a one percent infection rate compared to an average of 3 to 6 percent in other communities where population density is greater.

Whether there are more or less infections in the coming weeks, won’t matter to Pekau’s diehard rightwing extreme conservative supporters.

But they are a minority among the voters in Orland Park who return to the polls in the Spring to decide to either keep Pekau for one more term, or replace him with someone better.

Pekau’s odds of re-election are far less than a simple bet on the roulette wheel, especially in the wake of an ongoing coronavirus threat.

Ray Hanania

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